As far as children’s movies go, there is always that feel good lesson in them that is pretty in your face; whether its “treat others how you want to be treated,” “everything happens for a reason,” or the always fun: “follow your heart and all your dreams will come true!” Disney movie are the most overt with their messages. But, by being pushing so hard to make these messages obvious and understandable to children, problematic messages often slip into the mix. Such is the case in the Disney classic: The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the plot: After the murder of his parents when he was a baby, deformed Quasimodo has become the ward of Judge Frollo, an outwardly holy man who really is a jerk to Quasi, and hates all the Gypsies. Frollo wants to rid the city of all the gypsies with the help of the captain of the guard: Phoebus. However, Phoebus does not share Frollo's racist views When Quasimodo is crowned King of the Fools after leaving Notre Dame during the annual festival of Topsy Turvy Day, the hunchback is ordered beaten by Frollo’s guards as punishment, but Esmerelda, a hot-blooded but compassionate gypsy beauty, shows pity on him and helps free him from his chains. Esmereldsa is the first person to ever be nice to Quasi, and he instantly falls in love with her. But, as things go, she has a thing for the dashing Captain Phoebus, and just sees poor Quasi as a friend. Eventually, things escalate and Frollo attacks the Gypsy camp, and puts Esmerelda to burn at the stake, but Quasi saves her. He becomes the town hero, and no longer the center of fear and ridicule. The message of the film ends up being “don’t judge a book by its cover.” The scary looking Quasimoto is really a great guy, not some scary abomination.
This film gets this message across thorugh a contrast of logos and ethos. One at first would be inclined via logos to be scared or laugh at Quasimoto. But, through his actions, we see his true character and our ethos kicks in, teaching the lesson that we cannot judge a book by its cover. This is displayed in the scene where we are introduced to good ol’ Quasi. He is depicted as a loving guy, talking to his gargoyle friends. We feel bad for him because of his isolation in the bell tower though, so pathos is employed as well. He continues to prove our logos wrong throughout the movie through his “unselfish [and] clear motives” (Lunsford 45).
There is nothing wrong with this cliché message. It is an important lesson for children to learn. But, there is a problem with the underlying message: no matter how awesome of a guy you may be, if you’re not attractive, you won’t get the girl. From the moment Quasi laid his deformed eyes on Esmerelda, he was in love. They were perfect for each other – they were both outcasts in French society, and had a great dislike for Frollo. But, of course, she falls for the tall and dashing Captain Phoebus, the stereotypical ladies’ man. This is teaching a subliminal message to kids via logos, or "reason and common sense," that the stunningly attractive girl is going to want someone who is equally attractive (67). Who doesn't want to be with someone attractive? It is shaping children's logos to have this thought, which is a harsh, but semi-true reality in the world.
Was always my Disney crush. Look at those eyes.
Overall, I have to give Disney credit for giving a hard truth to kids in a subtle way, even if the movie's messages conflict a little. I give the movie two out of three tickets, because I just feel so bad for Quasimoto. He has to deal with the harsh reality the life has dealt him, and Disney couldn't even grant him a happy ending as it is apt to do.
Until next time guys,